Student motivation in blended learning

One of my main areas of interest with regard to learning technologies  is student motivation with relation to blended learning and the use of learning technologies. Quite a lot of research has been done so far in the field of student motivation in general, and some of these observations can be transferred onto the field of blended learning.

For example, Ellis, Ginns and Piggott, in their article “E-learning in higher education: some key aspects and their relationships to approaches to study” note that previous scholarship has identified four main factors that may affect student motivation:

  1. interactivity, 
  2. approaches to e-moderating, 
  3. issues related to course/module design, and 
  4. workload awareness. 

In other words, a good blended learning module should be built around interactive activities (which, in turn, should be closely aligned with the aims and learning outcomes of the module) which give students at least some control over their learning. The teacher’s role in this context is discussed mainly with regard to feedback and e-moderating in order to help learners reflect on issues under consideration.

The overall course/module design should follow the principles of constructive alignment, and should take into consideration workload requirements placed on students, since research shows that learner motivation and perception of the quality of the e-learning experience are significantly associated with perceptions of appropriate workload (i.e. the amount of online work on top of in-class activities).

The authors present a case study of over 200 undergraduate business students who were required to participate in online activities as part of a module they took. The study showed that students were particularly positive about learning from their peers’ contributions. In this sense, online activities (in this case sharing resources and opinions on a discussion board) prove to be well-suited for sharing of alternative perspectives.

Interestingly, students were largely neutral about the impact of the module website design on their experience. At the same time, their responses often revealed concern about the amount of additional workload related to adding e-learning activities to existing face-to-face activities without allowing for the additional time needed to complete them.

The researchers interpret their findings as an evidence of “the importance of careful structuring and design of e-learning activities and resources, especially in relation to the broader student experience” (Ellis et al. 2009: 316). This confirms the importance of careful design of online learning experiences so that the purpose behind using the electronic medium as well as the aims and objectives of the learning event are clear to the learners. This will hopefully result in enhancing their motivation, which should be our main focus in instructional design.

So the take-home point is as follows:

We cannot assume that the mere presence of e-learning activities and materials supporting a face-to-face experience of learning will improve the quality of the experience. How students perceive and use the activities and materials represent one of the keys to unlocking the full value of e-learning in the student learning experience at university.